One woman’s passion for the outdoors led to leaving a lasting legacy here in Montana.
Dr. Jean Smith taught in Carroll College’s biology department for more than three decades. And outside of class, Smith was an avid outdoorswoman who had a passion for all things wild.
“I think she had a spirituality that was somewhat natural, she just loved nature she loved everything about it,” Father Joseph Harrington said.
“She was a really interesting woman because for her generation she was very strong and very independent and really a lot of fun,” added friend Jo Lace.
“Women of that older generation, I didn’t know nobody who would have skinned out a deer, gutted an animal, cleaned fish, she just was a can do,” observed friend Sue Newell.
Smith was a hunter, angler, gardener and hiker. But it was Smith’s passion for birds that made her well-known in the birdwatching community.
“Jean was probably one of Montana’s foremost birders in her day,” Newell said.
“Like many of us that are raised in Montana, you really like birds but you don’t know much about them,” commented Marilyn Hayes. “And she just opened a whole new door for me and I have been a birder ever since.”
Smith passed away in 2015, at the age of 83, but she left behind a gift to FWP’s Montana Wild that today is helping create future bird watchers.
“We were able to put together 17 birding trunks, so a gift like Jean’s was amazing and very much appreciated,” said Laurie Wolf.
“And I feel good knowing now that all these kids across the state are going to be able to get their hands on some binoculars and get out there and do some bird watching,” she added.
Other plans for Smith’s legacy gift include bird education and conservation, but for many, Jean Smith will be remembered as an outdoorswoman with an independent spirit.
“She was just a really good model on how to be female and take your place in this world when a lot of us were just learning on how to do that. I learned a lot from Jean,” said friend and colleague Lorna Milne.
“What a remarkable person she is. I still think of her that way,” Father Harrington concluded.
Some other plans for Smith’s gift include distance learning courses and a bird watching website.
Reporting by Winston Greeley for Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks